We have taught flowcharting to clients for 25+ years for use in clearly describing their processes. Flowcharts are simply diagrams that show the steps in a process. They are invaluable for training new hires, documenting complicated systems, and improving/redesigning processes. One key to helping you create and then get real value in your flowcharts is to understand that there are different levels of flowcharting dependent on your needs.
Levels of flowcharts
Regardless of the level you choose for your flowchart, the tools stay the same – basic steps, decision points, etc. In other words, for each level of flowcharting the flowcharts themselves have the same overall look. The difference is in the detail.
Below is a pictorial example showing different levels of flowcharts for the “system” of getting up and off to work. The top flowchart shows the entire process in 4 steps, i.e., the flowchart is shown at a very broad level. The next breaks out one step and gives it more detail. The last flowchart takes one of those steps and fleshes it out into still more detail. There are more levels on either side of these depicted here – the key is to know which level to use for what circumstance.
What level of flowchart for what purpose?
So how detailed should your flowchart be? To answer that, determine the use and scope of the flowchart.
- Is this a flowchart that a new hire will use to complete his or her tasks? If so, the more detailed you are, the more independent the new hire can be.
- Is this a complicated, complex process where exact execution is critical? If yes, you will need detail.
- Will the flowchart be used to orient a group as an overview of a training or worksession, similar to an agenda? For this case, not much detail is needed to give participants a good idea of what is coming next.
- Will you be identifying problems and redesigning a process? You will need a comprehensive enough flowchart to identify waste, rework, opportunities for improvements, etc.
Consider a hospital admitting process. If you are the clerk completing admitting, you would want a detailed flow of the steps that you could use to assure no steps are missed and that you have handed off all relevant paperwork/information to the right parties within the hospital. If you are the RN on the new patient’s floor, you would not be interested in the full flowchart of the admitting process, i.e., you would not be interested in which forms are filled out for billing, what goes what copies they need of insurance cards, etc. But you would be very interested in the section of the admissions process that gives you as the RN the information you need to begin care of the patient. If that information is inconsistent or lacks key pieces, you could sit down with admitting, identify the steps that were not being handled and fix them. The detail needed varies depending on the use of the information.
There is no hard and fast rule on how detailed a flowchart should be. As vague as that may sound, it really isn’t difficult. Deciding what level to use or if you have the right level of detail for your flowchart is simply a matter of asking whether or not you are able to get the needed result by using the flowchart you have designed? If not, consider adding more detail or even taking out detail, depending on the situation.
Let us know if you have questions on flowcharting. We would be happy to help you create a simple flowchart of one of your processes to get you started using this terrific tool. Or if you are interested, we offer a half day training on flowcharting to bring your whole department or staff up to speed at the same time. Drop us an email to start using flowcharts for your processes.